Earlier this week the Electricity Authority (EA) apparently ruled against two submissions calling on it to overturn Unison Energy’s solar tax. It said Unison Energy was within its rights to charge solar users the extra solar tax, thanks to a loophole within the industry’s own rules.
We’ve also made a submission to the EA but our complaint is yet to be heard. We know that right is on our side so we won’t be giving up. We believe what Unison is doing is unacceptable, unlawful and a clear abuse of monopoly power.
Unison, which has customers in the Hawke’s Bay, Rotorua and Taupo, announced in April it was going to charge households with solar generation an extra lines fee, or what was in effect a solar tax. In doing so it is adding unfair and unnecessary costs (ranging from $128 to $258 a year) to its solar customers that want to save money and protect the environment by generating their own clean energy.
In response to that announcement more than 40,000 people have signed an online petition, in the last three weeks, saying solar users should not be penalised and have called on the EA to dump the fee. Others, including solarcity, have filed complaints with the EA saying the solar tax disadvantages customers and is in clear breach of the Electricity Industry Participation Code.
As the EA is still considering our objection we were very surprised to hear that it had already made a ruling. If we were surprised, our lawyer Duncan Currie was astounded, saying the EA’s investigation officials, who had not even completed hearing our case, had ignored natural justice, misapplied and indeed ignored their own rules.
We say the EA’s announcement is effectively a declaration that the electricity industry cannot be left to police itself, because it is intent on protecting outdated monopolies who are taxing ordinary Kiwis who are just trying to do the right thing by the environment
Basically, the EA has said that as Unison is a lines company, it is allowed to bill power companies for the tax and then those companies can bill the customer - but it is not a connection charge imposed by Unison, they argue.
That decision is wrong on so many levels that’s it’s hard to believe the EA could say it with a straight face.
Unison said in a media release that ‘price signals are an important element of assisting customers to make informed choices about costs and benefits of different technologies’. You don’t even need to read between those lines to see that Unison’s solar tax is an attempt to remove consumer choice and slow the uptake of solar.
Unison also tries to confuse the issue further by talking about a solar subsidy. Solar is not subsidised in any way in New Zealand. Subsidies are unnecessary in New Zealand due to the high price of grid power. The vast majority of solar in New Zealand remains grid tied. This means solar customers still pay for a new smart meter, their fixed lines charge and for all power they use that comes from the grid, including paying peak rates when charged, just the same as everyone else.
Unison have added an extra charge to recoup the margin they have lost from solar customers reducing their overall power consumption. The charge is clearly discriminatory since no similar charge is levied on customers who reduce power consumption by using energy efficient appliances or wood burning heaters.
These kinds of approaches by monopolies to try and stop solar won’t work. The Spanish Government recently agreed to revoke a national solar tax. That law will likely hold a record for being one of the shortest lived pieces of legislation on the Spanish law books. And the Federal Court ruled against a solar tax in south Australia at the end of last year.
Here, in New Zealand, four of the major power companies Vector, Orion, Network Tasman and Powerco have told us they have no intention of introducing a solar tax. They cover Auckland, Tauranga, New Plymouth, Palmerston North, Wellington, Nelson, Tasman and Canterbury.
We must work together to create a brighter energy future for the next generations. The combination of solar and battery storage will eventually strengthen New Zealand’s electricity networks and reduce peak demand.
With the technology available here today there is no reason to continue to burn coal to generate New Zealand’s electricity. Kiwis can make their voices heard by making the switch to solar power. Every solar rooftop makes a difference in the fight against climate change. In fact a solar panel in New Zealand has as much benefit as a solar panel in Australia, Germany the US etc. That is because a solar panel will displace thermal generation and therefore offset the same amount of CO2 no matter which country it is in.
And what about our customers? We are an energy services company, our mandate is to reduce customers energy usage, to help them save money and the environment. We will ensure our customers recoup this tax through energy saving initiatives and we’ll be supporting all homeowners in the Unison region who want to go solar.